Published: Tammy 13 September 1975 – 15 November 1975
Artists: Mario Capaldi, plus Tony Highmore as a filler artist in one episode
Writer: Pat Mills
Translations/reprints: Tammy 1 October 1983 – 10 December 1983; De geheimzinnige catalogus [The Mysterious Catalogue] in Tina Boelboek 4, 1984
Glenda Slade lives with her widowed mother. Mrs Slade works in a low-paid job, so they live a poor existence. They are so poor that the only thing Glenda has to wear is her school uniform (which Mum had to scrape for). At school, spoiled and snobby rich girl Hilary loves to bully Glenda over her poor background.
Then one day a woman knocks at the door and shows Glenda a beautiful catalogue that is packed full of gorgeous items to order. Glenda is blown away and wants to order from the catalogue immediately. Her mother reminds her that they cannot afford it. Glenda decides to keep the catalogue in secret so she can at least dream about the items. The woman agrees and gives Glenda a strange, ominous smile as she leaves.
Glenda is surprised when the items she circles start appearing at her front door for real and there is no apparent bill to pay. Thrilled at having nice things for the first time in her life, she starts circling more and more items, which continue to appear with no apparent price to pay. At school, the items make her the centre of attention and she is pleased to get one up on Hilary, who is being pushed out as the one to admire because the girls now swarm around Glenda and the things she is getting. Even Glenda’s face is beginning to change, and she is amazed that she is beginning to look like the model in the catalogue. Hilary is jealous and then suspicious about these items of Glenda’s.
But odd, worrying things start happening to Glenda. Among them, Hilary calls the police in to investigate the items (more of her spite towards Glenda). Of course they do not believe Glenda’s story about the catalogue. But when they try to take the items they get a strange electric shock, which frightens Glenda.
Then, at the swimming pool, Glenda discovers a shocking, inexplicable change in her personality and behaviour. Hilary is having an attack of cramp in the pool, but Glenda, who is the nearest, just leaves her to drown and makes no attempt to save her at all. Glenda herself cannot understand why she acted in this way. When she realises there can only be one answer, the catalogue begins to well and truly scare her. The girls save Hilary, and in the wake of this incident, Hilary rises again as the centre of the girls’ attention while Glenda is sent to Coventry. Hilary is delighted at Glenda’s downfall. In fact, when Glenda tries to apologise to Hilary, Hilary just pulls a false act of Glenda bullying her in order to get her into even deeper trouble with the girls.
Finally, the police arrest Mrs Slade over the mystery items. They have no evidence against her, but she has a criminal record, and that is enough for them. They don’t know or believe she has reformed to the point where she has raised Glenda to be extremely strict about honesty.
Glenda is appalled at how everything is getting just worse and worse for her. And worst of all, she has a feeling the catalogue is not even through yet.
The woman appears again. Glenda confronts her and urges her to tell the police how she got the items from her catalogue for free. The woman tells Glenda that nothing in the world is free and she has to pay. Glenda then realises that she has paid after all – with all the misery and trouble she has gone through because of the catalogue. She now understands that the woman and her catalogue are evil, and they were all out to play on her greed to get her into trouble. The woman tells Glenda that she will go on paying. But Glenda is determined to beat the woman. When Glenda finds she cannot destroy or dispose of the catalogue, she tries to break its power by getting rid of the all the lovely items it brought her and sending them to a charity shop. It’s a wrench for poverty-stricken Glenda, turning her back on those beautiful things, but it does the trick. She is now able to throw the catalogue out and leaves it for the dustmen.
But Mrs Slade, who is released for lack of evidence (or maybe because of the temporary break in the catalogue’s power?) finds the catalogue and now she is the one who is tempted. Ignoring Glenda’s warnings, she orders as many items as possible so as to win the mystery prize the catalogue is offering. When the prize arrives, it is a lighter in the shape of a skull. Later, Glenda realises that a skull stands for death, and gets a horrible thought as to the price Mum is to pay. She manages to get out of school (thanks to nasty Hilary ripping her one and only skirt for a ‘joke’), rushes home to check up on her mother, and finds the skull lighter has started a fire.
The fire is spreading fast, and the skull itself seems to be fanning the flames. All the same, Mum is reluctant to evacuate and leave her lovely things behind, so Glenda has to do some persuading to make her agree to do so. However, they discover all the glossy pages’ furniture has suddenly moved to block all the exits and won’t budge. Clearly, the price the catalogue intends them to pay is for them both to perish in the fire. However, Glenda manages to create an exit by throwing the catalogue itself out the window, which makes the flames at the window die down enough for them to escape through the window. Across the street, Glenda sees the evil woman is watching, and the woman is looking absolutely furious that she and her glossy pages have failed. However, the emergency services whisk Glenda and her mother away before Glenda gets a chance to retrieve the book and stop someone else from falling into its power.
A few days later, Glenda and her mother are discharged from hospital. Their old house got destroyed, so they are given a new one. Glenda’s mother is relieved that at least their new start will be an honest one, even if it is from scratch. Glenda went back for the catalogue, but failed to find it. Glenda does not know that Hilary picked up the book while dropping by to gloat over the destruction of her home, and recognised those mystery items of Glenda’s in it. And rich girl though she is, Hilary is tempted by the catalogue and sets out to make herself the envy of all the girls with it…
This particular “wish-fulfilment with the inevitable catch in it somewhere” story has been an enduring one in Tammy. On the Internet it still attracts positive comment and is clearly well remembered. One reason has to be that Pat Mills wrote it. Pat Mills has established himself as one of the best writers in British comics, such as in 2000AD, Battle and Misty. He has written many classics in girls’ comics, including ones from Jinty herself, such as “Land of No Tears” and “Concrete Surfer”.
The themes the story explores also help to make it an enduring one: greed, fantasy, temptation, rags-to-riches, bullying, jealousy, the supernatural, the macabre, and the threat of the Grim Reaper. The protagonists themselves are ones who remain sympathetic, even when the power of the catalogue leads them so much that their personalities begin to harden, they lose common sense and sight of themselves, and become increasingly consumed by the temptations the catalogue is offering. Glenda at least has enough sense and virtue to notice the warnings. It takes a while for her to heed the warnings enough to stop using the catalogue, not least because it is so hard to break away from having nice things for the first time in her life. But as the nightmare intensifies and the evil increasingly obvious, she finally finds the strength to do so.
Mrs Slade becomes even more consumed by greed than her daughter. This would be partly because she has not received increasing danger signals as Glenda had. But it could also be rooted in her once being a criminal. Glenda’s birth made her go straight and she clearly resolved to bring Glenda up so strictly about honesty that she would not follow that deviant path. Mum was successful there until the catalogue came along. The catalogue did not make Glenda an outright criminal, but it did corrupt her and make her stray off the honest path her mother set her on. Mum, meanwhile, is tempted because although she had stayed honest, she felt that going straight had not lifted her out of the poverty she and Glenda had always lived in and it never seemed to do her any real good. It was these feelings that made it so easy for the catalogue to tempt her.
The only truly good thing to come out of the catalogue was Glenda and her mother being given a new home and a new start. We hope it will be the start of a better life for them. In any case, we know Mum has returned to the straight path when she says that at least they will start honestly. And after they have been through with the catalogue, we imagine they will stick to the honest path even more assiduously.
At the end of the story, Hilary also falls into the grip of the catalogue. Unlike the Slades, however, we do not sympathise with her when she does so. In fact, we feel like hoping the catalogue will give Hilary her comeuppance. She already has plenty of things of her own, and unlike the Slades she can afford them because she is so rich. She has no real need for the catalogue, yet she is tempted all the same. The catalogue is clearly playing on Hilary having far less moral fibre than Glenda Slade and being a more nasty character. Throughout the story Hilary has been portrayed as nothing but a spoiled, bullying snob who is always out to stick her knife into Glenda, just because she is poor. Hilary does not even have an ounce of sympathy at Glenda losing her home: “What a shame the scruff’s house was burnt down – I don’t think.” If there were a sequel to this story, which there isn’t, we would like to see how the trouble Hilary gets into with the catalogue improves her personality and makes her nicer to Glenda by the end of the story.
The ending itself is a skilful one that makes the storytelling even more powerful. Instead of the catalogue being destroyed and never able to tempt anyone again, the story ends on a grim, ominous reminder that evil is continuous. In fact, we would not be at all surprised if this woman distributes these evil catalogues all over the place, targeting the people she thinks would be the easiest to tempt, like the poverty-stricken Slades.